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Crossroads of the World: An Adventure Across Central Asia

Crossroads of the World: An Adventure Across Central Asia

Old May 13th, 2024, 09:20 AM
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KarenWoo, we're largely on our own; no guides. We typically rely on our own two feet, with public transport and taxi rides as needed. We hired a driver to take us from Khiva to the fortresses and then to Bukhara. In Uzbekistan, Yandex is the rideshare app of choice. We downloaded it before we left and have been making good use of it. Most rides are $1-3 each, even for longish 30-minute rides.

Nelson, thank you. I'll check it out.

May 13: Bukhara

Today is a slower day of touring, for us at least. We began our day at the Bukhara Museum of Fine Arts, where we viewed the small but interesting collection of paintings by Uzbek and Russian artists.

We then walked to Fayzulla Khodjaev House Museum, the former home of a 20th-century Bukharan political revolutionary born into a family of wealthy traders. We toured several rooms of the home. We especially loved the walls paintings that bring light and lightness into each of the rooms, with its flowers and flower vases. Also a feature in these rooms are porcelain display cases built into the wall; we enjoyed these as well as the objects on display inside.

Next on our agenda was a visit to the former summer palace of the Emir of Bukhara, Mohi Hosa. Sitting north of the city center, the modest-sized palace is different from every other royal palace we've toured anywhere in the world. The exterior of the palace is European with some Middle Eastern touches. The interior, however, is distinctly Persian. What most caught our attention and interest are the walls in each of the rooms, covered in colored mirrors that make entire rooms look like a giant painting. The porcelain fireplaces were also highlights. On the grounds are also a lakeside pavilion that used to serve as the emir's bed chambers and a pen used to hold peacocks. The grounds were also beautiful, especially with the roses in bloom, and perfect for wandering on a hot day like today (90 degrees Fahrenheit).

From there we continued on to the Mausoleum of Bahauddin Naqshbandi, located east of the city center. The memorial to one of the seven most important Sufi scholars of Bukhara, the site contains several mosques and a madrasa. We finished our sightseeing at Char Bakr Necropolis, the resting place for the city's former rulers; the complex contains a mosque and numerous tombs.

We returned to the city center for a leisurely late afternoon lunch at Lyabi Hauz, a restaurant next to Nadir Divanbegi Khanaka serving well-prepared Uzbek staples as well as several Western options. We spent the remainder of the day browsing and shopping at the coveted bazaars and enjoying a cup at a teahouse, both particularly enjoyable activities in Bukhara. There are worse ways to pass the time.

Come evening, we attended a folklore and fashion show at Nadir Divanbegi Madrasa. The one-hour show featured traditional Bukharan songs, dances, and costume. Touristy, yes. A bit hokey, yes. But it was enjoyable too. Following the show, we ate dinner nearby at Restaurant Jam, a restaurant serving typical Uzbek food. Food was good; service was good until a tour group showed up.


Fayzulla Khodjaev Home

Reception Room at Fayzulla Khodjaev Home

Entrance Portal to Sitori Mohi Hosa

Exterior of Main Palace at Sitori Mohi Hosa

Typical Wall Decoration at Sitori Mohi Hosa

Mirror Inlays on Walls at Sitori Mohi Hosa

Ceiling at Sitori Mohi Hosa

Lakeside Pavilion at Sitori Mohi Hosa

Mausoleum of Bahauddin Naqshbandi

Mosque at Char Bakr Necropolis

Tombs at Char Bakr Necropolis

Street of Royal Mausoleums at Char Bakr Necropolis
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Old May 14th, 2024, 09:16 AM
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May 14: Samarkand

We woke up at 2:30 in the morning to head to the train station for our trip to Samarkand. Uzbekistan Railways offers limited train schedule options at odd hours, and the 4:20 departure is the least worst among the options as it allows us to maximize daylight hours at either end. A relatively new high-speed train, the journey from Bukhara to Samarkand took less than two hours, depositing us in Samarkand at 6:00 in the morning.

Samarkand – it’s a city whose name a couple of us have fantasized about for some time. Images of the fabled city with its larger than life Registan Square have drawn us here, and is one of the reasons why we came to Central Asia in the first place. So naturally it was the first stop of our visit to Samarkand. Located in the middle of the city center, the Registan is a public square with three grand 14th-century madrasas fronting it on its east, west, and north. On the west side is Ulugbek Madrasa, the oldest of the three. On the north side is Tilya Kori Madrasa, which features a massive turquoise dome, underneath which houses a grand mosque. The mosque, bathed in blues and golds, is a marvel. On the east side is Sher Dor Madrasa, with its twin domes, also in turquoise. If blue is the color of heaven, then the Registan must be heaven on earth, for every square inch of the facades on the entrance portals and around the courtyard are decorated in blue tiling of every shade imaginable. Adoring the walls are flowers, animals, calligraphy, geometric patterns, and other Islamic motifs, particularly those found in the Persian traditions. The Ulugbek Madrasas also features astronomical symbols. What a place this is! Even the ubiquitous souvenir shops didn’t distract me from the real reason why we’re here, to marvel at these man-made wonders of a bygone era.

After a couple of hours fully taken in the Registan, we made our way north to Bibi-Khanym Mosque, another masterpiece of classical Persian architecture. The building style and decorative motifs are similar to what is found at the madrasas of the Registan. Legend has it that Amir Timur built the mosque as a surprise to one of his beloved wives; it sure does impress, even to this day. Nearby is the Hazrat-Hizr Mosque, home to among things a mausoleum of Islam Karimov, the first President of the post-Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. We then continued on to Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis, the final resting place of Samarkand’s royalty. The necropolis is home to another grand mosque and a street of blue-and-turquoise mausoleum facades. This must be one of the most beautiful final resting places in the world.

From here, we traced our way back towards the Registan, but not before a light afternoon lunch-cum-welcome coffee break. We moved on to Rukhobod Mausoleum and the Mausoleum of Amir Timur. The final resting place for the ultimate Central Asian emperor represents fine classical Persian architecture. The mausoleum is plastered in exquisite blue-and-turquoise tiling and showered in gold.

After yet another very rewarding day of sightseeing, we returned to our hotel, the Movenpick, to check in (our rooms were not available this morning) and freshen up before dinner. We booked a spacious two-bedroom apartment for the four of us. The 1,200-sq. ft. suite is much more space than we need, but we don’t mind spreading out a bit. Heck, we’re on vacation. While the room is nice, the hotel is a bit tired and outdated. It seems to be a home of choice for tour groups, as I counted five tour buses in the parking lot.

For dinner, we chose Platan, about a 15-minute walk from the hotel. As we’re beginning to tire of the Uzbek staples of plov, lagman, and manti, the diverse choices was a welcome change. The food was good, although on the pricier side (still a bargain by American or European standards).



Registan

Ulugbek Madrasa

Tilya Kori Madrasa

Sher Dor Madrasa (Courtyard View)

Sher Dor Madrasa (Entrance Portal View)

Dome of Bibi-Khanym Mosque

Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis Domes

Amir Timur Mausoleum Entrance Portal

Amir Timur Mausoleum Interior

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Old May 14th, 2024, 12:17 PM
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So stately, majestic, and peaceful!
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Old May 14th, 2024, 05:12 PM
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Beautiful description and photos. I, too, am struck by how peaceful it looks, except the Khiva crowds, not what I would have expected.

I had to look up plov, lagman, and manti, then had to see if vegetarian versions exist. There are plenty of recipes online, but seems unlikely that you'd find them as an option there. (Not that you'd want to.)

Safe travels!
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Old May 15th, 2024, 12:13 PM
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shelemm, indeed and especially so in Bukhara. It's so easy to lay back and linger all around town there. This is true of certain parts of Samarkand as well.

Nelson, I too did not know about these food items until I came to Uzbekistan. That said, there are similar foods in other parts of the world, especially in the South Caucasus; I would say Georgian food is more flavorful though.

May 15: Samarkand

Our second full day in Samarkand was a light one. Arguably, we could probably have done with one night less in Samarkand, although we are not big fans of a succession of 1- or 2-nighters. We already visited all of Samarkand’s top attractions yesterday. And we had not planned on visiting Shakhrisabz until tomorrow. Other than additional day trips, we founded that there was not that much more to do in the city.

We began our day with a visit to Afrosiab Museum, dedicated to the ancient settlement of Afrosiab, northeast of the city center. The museum, though small, was enjoyable. It allowed us to learn about a settlement that I knew nothing about. The museum sits next to the archaeological site, although there’s not much excavated.

From here we continued to Ulugbek Observatory. It was here at one of Timur’s grandsons devoted imperial resources to the construction of the observatory and to study astronomy, advanced for his time given that Islam frowns upon studies of the stars given its nature to project and predict the future.

We returned to the city center, from where we embarked on a short walking tour exploring a side of Samarkand that tourists almost never see. The area we walked lied between Bibi-Khanym Mosque and the Registan. Here we caught a glimpse of workaday Samarkand, with typical homes and building structures found in this part of the world, a couple of small mosques, a hammam dating back centuries, and a 19th century synagogue.

With more time to spare, we took a taxi out to Silk Road Samarkand, a new development of hotels, a convention center, restaurants, and shops, all lining a rectangular pool of water. Silk Road Samarkand is still in its infancy, but the faux Persian architecture and the layout of the site reminded me of Madinat Jumeirah near to Burj Al-Arab in Dubai.

We returned to the Registan this evening. We did some more shopping, watched a hokey show aimed at tourists, and marveled at the buildings in Registan come aglow in the illuminations that light up after dusk. There were many people, tourists and locals, out and about, enjoying these magnificent views. We did too.


Fresco Found at Afrosiab

Ulugbek Observatory

Local Hammam

Local Synagogue

Silk Road Samarkand

Registan at Night

Registan at Night

Registan at Night

Registan at Night

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Old May 15th, 2024, 04:42 PM
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This is fascinating! Samarkand looks so interesting, and I love the architecture. Your photos are gorgeous! The Registan at night is beautiful. And as others have said, it's so very peaceful. No hordes of tourists, that's for sure. What is the weather and temps like?
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Old May 15th, 2024, 07:18 PM
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That night scene is like out of a fantasy.
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Old May 16th, 2024, 06:31 AM
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Breathtaking and so other-worldly! tripplanner, you’ve outdone yourself! You and your family really amaze me in your travel interests and energy!

This is a fascinating report, filled with lots of details and stunning photos, of a region that is still not very well known, though certainly not undiscovered, as you noted the number of times you saw the tour groups. I think the internet has really opened up the world for all of us, and some of that is good, but the consequences are that more and more places, once “off the beaten track”, are now drawing crowds. Still, the places you are seeing are amazing and feel of a different world and different time.

And I love those night shots in the Registan - as shelemm says, they’re like out of a fantasy!

KarenWoo - I remember your writing about Yunnan in China and corresponding with you about the region. I had planned a trip there which was the first canceled trip of the pandemic. Not sure that we’ll get there but it seemed fascinating.

tp, we did get to Mystras and loved it! Still in Greece for a little while longer!
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Old May 16th, 2024, 09:36 AM
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KarenWoo, for the most part, Uzbekistan has been hot and humid. We've experienced temperatures between 80 and 95, either sunny or partly sunny with moderate to high humidity. It feels a little bit like what we would expect in Southeast Asia.

shelemm, I definitely feel like I'm living in a fantasy world at times or at least having travelled in a time capsule back in time to the 14th and 15th centuries when trade and commerce thrived in these parts of the world.

progol, thank you. We are grateful for how lucky we are to experience these places. Glad that you continue to enjoy your time in Greece. Looking forward to reading about it.

May 14: Shakhrisabz and Samarkand

Shakhrisabz, located about two hours to the south of Samarkand by car, was our destination of the day. Shakhrisabz's claim to fame was that it was the hometown of Amir Timur, although little remains from those times.

We travelled by taxi from Samarkand to Shakhrisabz, which we hailed using the rideshare app Yandex. We were able to find a driver willing to take the trip within a couple of minutes; the ride cost about 250,000 som, or 20 U.S. dollars. Soon after we left Samarkand, much of the urban sprawl gave way to green mountains. We enjoyed the scenery as our driver navigated the many winding twists and turns through this rugged geography. Not too long after we came out of the mountains, we reached Shakhrisabz.

The points of interests to tourists like us in Shakhrisabz are concentrated in a small area, all within a park. It was easy to walk from sight to sight, although motorized golf carts were also available for those who preferred it. We began at the statue to the former leader before continuing north to Ak-Saray Palace to view what little remains of Amir Timur's residence. From there we made our way to Amir Timur Museum, which houses a good exhibit to the former leader; this was probably the most worthwhile place to visit in Shakhrisabz. We then continued south to visit two mosques- mausoleums, that of Dorus Tilyovat and Dorus Siyadat. Both were built in the Persian style and contained the to-be-expected beautiful tilework and ornamentation. In all, our visit took about two and a half hours. Was Shakhrisabz a must-see? No. But then, other than the Registan, Bibi Khanym, and Shah-i-Zinda Mausoleu., nothing really is.

Returning to Samarkand, we stopped at a roadside restaurant nestled in the mountains for a lunch of grilled lamb and salads. We lingered a bit over some tea, just taking in our surroundings and the fresh air.

Once back in Samarkand, we arranged our belongings for our onward travel tomorrow. It's always a chore trying to repack everything we brought with us back into our carryon luggage as we make purchases along the way. Once sorted, we went out for one final evening stroll in town before dinner at Oasis Garden, a restaurant near our hotel.

With this, our journey across Uzbekistan is coming to a close. We spent nine incredible days travelling back in time and visiting some of the fabled cities of the East that we've fantasized and dreamt about over the years. We gazed at some of the most impressive monuments built by humans. We walked some of the same streets that names such as Timerlane and Genghis Khan trodden on. And we enjoyed many cups of tea in atmospheric cafes watching the world go by. But nothing compares to the people we've met and bonded with along the way, whether they were locals or other tourists.

While we enjoyed our visit to this once hidden gem of a tourism destination (given the number of tour buses we encountered everywhere we went, I can say with confidence that it is hidden no more), we also had to adjust to taking it more slowly than usual. There were just not as many must-dos to tick off in Samarkand and in Bukhara as one may expect in London, Paris, or Bangkok. Had we known what we knew now, we would have organized our itinerary a little differently. We would have added a night in Khiva so that the trip from Khiva to Bukhara would have been less tiresome; or better yet, we may have tried to sync up our itinerary with the days flights between Khiva and Bukhara were available. And we would probably have cut one night out of our allotment for Samarkand, and combined our itineraries for yesterday and today for one of today. Or perhaps we could have identified a day hike opportunity out of either Bukhara or Samarkand. In short, Uzbekistan is best enjoyed at a more relaxed pace.

Tomorrow begins our next chapter of our journey across Central Asia. Please continue to follow along with us as we leave Uzbekistan behind and dive into Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Up next: Almaty.


Ak-Saray

Dorus Siyadat

Dorus Tilyovat

Mountains Between Shakhrisabz and Samarkand
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Old May 16th, 2024, 09:53 AM
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Add me to the list of fans of your night scenes of the Registan. Amazing, those mosaic tiles under lights!

It is fascinating to consider that you are literally following the footsteps of Ghengis Khan & company.
Looking forward to your travels to the K-stans.

KarenWoo, later I'll have to find your report on Yunnan. We were there in 1988 so it will be interesting.
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Old May 16th, 2024, 10:50 AM
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Nelson, we visited Yunnan Province in May 2017 so my report is shortly after that. I assume it was very different from when you visited in 1988. The most exotic and unique place that I have been anywhere is Xinjiang Province in China. Kashgar and the Sunday Market are so fascinating. Definitely felt like we were in another century. Including the Old Town of Kashgar. But I think I read somewhere that unfortunately the Old Town was torn down for modernization. And our drive along the Karakoram Highway was definitely otherworldly and from a different century.

Progol, Mystras is my favorite place of all the sites/ruins we visited around Nafplion. I would love to see it again! And I remember when you planned your trip to Yunnan. You used the same travel agency we used. Unfortunately, there were lots of cancelled trips that year.
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Old May 16th, 2024, 10:54 AM
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tp, just curious. Did you have any stomach issues on this trip? The reason I ask is that out of 3 trips to China, I have had intestinal problems on 2 of the trips, and relied heavily on Cipro! We would love to visit SE Asia within the next couple years but possible stomach/food issues make me a bit nervous. Will have to make sure we have plenty of Cipro with us!
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Old May 16th, 2024, 07:40 PM
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Nelson, the Registan is definitely a special place. We were fortunate enough to visit five times in the three days we were in Samarkand. Of the different times, I especially enjoyed by visits just before sunset and after the evening lights come on. The mood is magic, and the glow of the buildings is otherworldly.

KarenWoo, we had no stomach issues on this trip, and knock on wood, it stays this way. What Iíve noticed is that hygiene is very good in Uzbekistan. A couple of us had food poisoning on both of our visits to Spain, once in Barcelona and the other in Madrid, and we had similar issues in Luxor, Egypt.
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Old May 17th, 2024, 11:23 AM
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May 17: In Transit

One of the downsides of travelling in Central Asia is its undeveloped transport infrastructure. While a brand new airport opened in Samarkand, there is a general lack of flights serving it. There were no flights serving Tashkent on this day let alone internationally. Similarly, rail travel is limited. The only logical train leaves Samarkand at 6:00 AM, arriving in Tashkent at 8:00 AM. Given the lack of options, we arranged for a taxi transfer to take us from our hotel in Samarkand to Tashkent Airport, a 4-hour journey.

From Tashkent, we flew to Almaty, Kazakhstan, via Air Astana, the Kazakh national carrier. The trip was an uneventful 2.5-hour flight. The service onboard was good. The trip from the airport into the city took almost an hour with heavy traffic. Driving into the city, we past skyscraper after skyscraper. Almaty does not look like Tashkent nor any other city we've visited in the former Soviet Union for that matter. Instead, Almaty is a contemporary city of steel and glass, one that could be anywhere in the world.

Once we settled into our hotel, the Intercontinental near Republic Square, we went for an introductory evening stroll of the city. The downtown area felt more typical for post-Soviet city, with its large faux-European style buildings and major palaces to the arts. Our walk took us along Panfilov and Arbat Street, where we enjoyed not just the scenery but throngs of local family and friends out to have a good time. The pedestrian tree-lined streets are filled with cafes, ice cream stands, restaurants and shops, and street art. We settled upon Tirol off Arbat Street for dinner; the decor resembled that of an Alpine lodge and the food, mostly Central European, was a welcome change from the Central Asian dishes we've been eating.

The one challenge in Almaty so far: Internet access issues. Kazakhstan is the 59th country we've visited, and in no country have we had problems accessing the Internet from my U.S. based phone with AT&T. This means we were unable to book a rideshare with Yandex, tonight, for example, nor could we use Google Maps for navigation for our walking.


Street Art in Almaty

Street Art in Almaty

Painting on Side of Building in Almaty

State Opera and Ballet Theater

Apple (as the City of Apples, there are apple sculptures all over the city)

Abstract Apple
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Old May 18th, 2024, 11:03 AM
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May 18: Almaty

We woke up early and enjoyed a large breakfast spread at our hotel, the Intercontinental, before venturing out to explore Kazakhstan's cultural and commercial capital and largest city, Almaty. We concentrated our exploration in the city center, hitting the city's major landmarks and wandering its markets and museums.

We started at Astana Square, formerly known as Lenin Square. From there we walked past Arasan Baths, a large Soviet-era bathing facility, before arriving at Green Bazaar. The city's central marketplace, the bazaar is huge and sold everything under its roof - meats of all kinds including pork, produce of many varieties, dried fruits and nuts, clothing, and other everyday items. The bazaar was mostly visited by locals doing their Saturday shopping, with a few tourists milling about. The market was a wonderful morning experience.

From here we headed over to Assumption Cathedral, a magnificent Russian Orthodox Church with a glorious altarpiece and numerous Christian icons. Built at the turn of the 20th centuries, this is one of the few Christian churches that remain in what is now a predominantly Sunni Muslim country (although there is little evidence of practice in dress, food, etc.).

We then headed to the 28 Heroes Monument, a memorial to Kazakh soldiers who fought and died for the Soviet Union during the Bolshevik Revolution and World War II. Next to the memorial is a museum of Kazakh musical instruments.

From there we strolled down pedestrian Panfilov Street and tree-lined Tulebaev Street, with large Soviet-style apartment buildings on either side of the street. It's not just Tulebaev Street; almost all the streets across Central Almaty are lined with large trees on either side and surrounded by parks everywhere. It's like walking in a city within a garden - something I found very peaceful and relaxing and perhaps contribute to the general joie de vivre of locals.

We continued past the Soviet-era Academy of Sciences with its whimsical Chinese zodiac fountain, the Hotel Kazakhstan, and the Palace of the Republic. Our destination: Kok Tobe, the mountain overlooking the city. We reached the top of the mountain by cable car. At the top of the mountain are amusement park rides, restaurants, cafes, and viewing platforms. While views of Almaty are milquetoast, especially on thus drizzly afternoon, the surrounding snow-capped peaks lifted our moods.

We concluded our day at the Central State Museum, a museum to the archaeology, ethnography, and culture of Kazakhstan. Several of the exhibits were not every interesting, although we did enjoy viewing the different ethnic costumes and jewelry on display. From here, Independence Square is just down the road, as is our hotel.

Dinner tonight was a celebration at SANDYQ, a traditional Kazakh restaurant complete with live Kazakh instrumental music and singing. The food here was out of this world. The assortment of breads, the crispy eggplant salad, different meats (including horse, which we tried for the first time), and fish - simply outstanding. We were the only tourists in the house this evening; everyone else were locals out enjoying themselves or celebrating life events (judging by the flowers, there were several birthdays and / or anniversaries in the house).

While we did a lot with our limited time in Almaty, we are leaving in the morning wishing we had at least one more day in the city.


Astana Square

Central Bank Building

Arasan Baths

Street Mural of Kazakh Traditional Costumes

Candy for Sale at Green Bazaar

Fruits on Display at Green Bazaar

Meat Section of Green Bazaar

Assumption Cathedral

Altarpiece at Assumption Cathedral

Soviet Era Building

Zodiac Fountain at Academy of Sciences

Almaty Skyline from Kok Tobe

TV Tower and Snow-Capped Peaks

Central State Museum

Performing Artists at SANDYQ
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Old May 18th, 2024, 11:06 AM
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Good luck with the internet issues. If you had posted those photos without any context there is absolutely no way I would have guessed Central Asia.
Safe travels, keep them coming when you are able to, and feel like it.

Edit: you must have posted your prior post exactly as I was posting this one!

Second Edit: you sure packed a lot in your day in Almaty. Safe travels to your next destination.

Last edited by Nelson; May 18th, 2024 at 11:11 AM.
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Old May 19th, 2024, 03:29 AM
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Sorry, New York, but Almaty is the original Big Apple. "Apples are from Kazakhstan." This is their origin story. In fact, it's the name of a book that I read years ago.... but forgot about until now.

It's a sad story about how the Kazakhs were once famous for apple cultivation. Particularly for their impressive size and wonderful flavor. Then the Soviet Union took over agricultural production with their ideas of increasing production for the Motherland.

A professor, considered the Father of the Apple, had a not-particularly-good student who showed far more adherence to Party ideology than his agricultural studies. The professor was exiled and the student was put in charge of agricultural policy. It was a disaster.

I am curious to know what the state of apple production is nowadays....

From the Kirkus Review of the book:

"Apples are thought to have originated in Kazakhstan, he tells us, and tulips too; today it teems with abundant oil reserves, coal, copper, uranium, platinum and gold. Robbins’s travelogue enthusiastically and infectiously blends history, observation and mini biographies.

Kazakhstan virtually disappeared from sight when Russia expanded eastward in the 19th century, bringing along tyranny as an unwelcome export. The region’s remoteness made it a favorite with both tsars and commissars for disposing of political undesirables: Dostoyevsky did time in Kazakhstan; Stalin exiled Trotsky there in 1928; and Solzhenitsyn was one of countless prisoners who suffered in the Kazakh Gulag.

Robbins tells happier stories as well. He met a real-life berkutchy, who hunted with eagles trained from infancy, and the sole surviving member of the “Kazakh Beatles,” whose enthusiasm for the Fab Four was “fresh as the day he first heard ‘Please Please Me.’ ”

The author also interviewed Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who led his people to independence in 1991, privatized industry, introduced a new currency and valiantly dealt with a leftover nuclear cache and a major environmental disaster. On his last visit, Robbins learned that Nazarbayev planned to build a giant yurt with indoor gardens, beaches, a concert hall and an underground shopping court, “to provide winter fun for everyone” during Kazakhstan’s long months of subzero temperatures."

Last edited by shelemm; May 19th, 2024 at 04:23 AM.
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Old May 19th, 2024, 08:37 AM
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Nelson, thank you. Since we've come to Kazakhstan, I've relied on hotel, coffee shop, and restaurant Wifi. I can make calls using my U.S.-based phone, but Internet access still is not possible from my phone.

shelemm, thanks for this fascinating information. Judging by the produce on sale at the Green Bazaar, the top fruits produced may be strawberries and melons. Apples were on sale but not in any abundance.

May 19: Altyn-Emel National Park

We said goodbye to Almaty this morning and began our week-long road trip across southeastern Kazakhstan and northern Kyrgyzstan. For the next seven days, we will leave the cities behind and experience what the great outdoors in this part of the world have to offer. We look forward to the wide, open landscapes, of steppes, mountains, canyons, and lakes. We hope to catch a glimpse of nomadic life and the traditions that have defined the Central Asian peoples for millennia.

Southeast Kazakhstan is more familiarly known as Zhetysu, meaning seven rivers. The region is home to several national parks. We intend to visit Charyn Canyon, a red-rock canyon, Lake Kaindy, and Kolsai Lakes. In planning this trip, we were drawn to the multicolored hues of these places, as well as the interesting geology and topography found here. We knew we had to make time for it on our trip. Initially, we planned on a 2 to 3 day trip to Zhetysu, to sample some of these landscapes. As the planning intensified and we read more about the area, the possibility of spending a few days in Kyrgyzstan with its huge lake, Issyk-Kul, and seeing the Tian Shan mountains was too tempting to pass on. And so we wound up with a 7-day program that straddles the two countries.

From Almaty, we headed northeast, towards Basshi village, our home for tonight. As soon as we left the city behind, we were on the central Asian steppes. The land was as flat as flat can be. It was covered in a carpet of short green grass as far as the eye can see. The only break in the landscape was the road cutting across it that we were driving on. Here and there the greenery was punctuated by orange and purple wildflowers in blooms. There were occasional trees, especially closer to the road. Steppes gave way to gentle, rolling hills, with taller mountains, some snow-capped, in the distance. It's almost like we were on a movie set. I imagined nomads on horseback entering the scene at any moment. The views were both interesting and calming. These were the images of Central Asia, real or not, that I've conjured in my head before coming. About three hours in the journey, we came up to larger, more imposing mountains. We wound our way through the mountains on a two-lane road for about 30 minutes before arriving in Basshi village, nestled within Altyn-Emel National Park.

We were welcomed by the innkeeper of the guesthouse where we are staying for the night with a warm lunch of roasted lamb and potatoes along with salad and freshly-baked bread. The guesthouse consists of a main house where the innkeeper lives with her family, a kitchen, and a dining area. Adjacent is a building made of sawdust boards for walls and a tin roof, which is where the guests are housed. Each of the rooms come with an ensure bathroom - spartan but it will do for one night. We did inquire about better accommodations but it doesn't exist in this area.

After lunch, we set out for the gorgeous mountains in Altyn-Emel National Park. We spent a couple of hours hiking in the incredible Aktau (or White) Mountains, across plateaus and through dry riverbeds, enjoying the diverse landscapes all around us. Tall chalk white mountains. Mountains in different shades of red and oranges. Mountains with clear layers upon layers of mineral deposits that produce stratified hues of the different colors of the rainbow. Various rock formations. The geological diversity made for hiking heaven. From there we continued on to the Katutau Mountain, formed from volcanic activity long ago. If Aktau was the main course, Katutau was the dessert - a fun, quick scramble among the red rocks left behind by geology.

After almost two weeks wandering among cities new and old, which we very much enjoyed, the change of pace and scenery showed us a face of Central Asia that we had not experienced until now. And it has already given us the opportunity to make new memories in yet another unfamiliar land. After a good dinner with other travellers at the guesthouse and a nice shower, it's now time for some rest in anticipation for new trails ahead. Hope I'm able to capture some of my feelings and emotions for you as well as the places in words and in photographs.

Perhaps it's because of the blood flows that come with a good afternoon's hike, but a hike never fails to reinvigorate and rejuvenate me, and today is no different. See you on the trails again in the morning...

(Guesthouse Wifi is too weak to post photos. These will come later.)
tripplanner001 is offline  
Old May 19th, 2024, 09:15 AM
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I'm really enjoying this TR.

If interested in a (pretty big) contrast, here's a TR I posted on Flyertalk covering a trip to Russia and Central Asia in 1974. Big changes in 50 years.

Back in the USSR - Russia and Central Asia, 1974 - FlyerTalk Forums
Gardyloo is offline  
Old May 19th, 2024, 11:52 AM
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Good to know you are visiting the wilds of Central Asia. I am sure it's a magnificent landscape with some unique experiences, gradually going form one ecosystem to another. Sounds like you are off to a great start.
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